I’m enormously excited by the prospect of visiting Sedgefield as they are promising to take visitors ‘Around The World In One Raceday’! What better for a man going around the British racecourses in eighty days to also go around the globe in just one?
On closer inspection of the website I discover this theme is food related, of which there are two options: ‘The American Hot Dog Package’ and the extraordinarily-named ‘The Around The World In A Jacket Potato Package’. Immediately my mind wanders to visions of sailing the seven seas in a coracle made by scooping out a giant potato, and being washed up on distant shores and sampling the local delicacies. My daydreaming is stopped in its tracks when I scroll down to see a photo of a jacket potato with cheese on top. Really, I cannot begin to tell you of the stark inanity of this image that left me laughing hysterically.
As I exit for the racecourse before entering the town itself, I remember the words of my taxi driver Eric. Briefly, I think of turning around and finding the steak and kidney pie that made his visit to Sedgefield the best day of his life, but I’ve got a cosmopolitan feast waiting for me at the races, and I really must stop this double-lunch protocol.
It’s cold and windy as I step from the car, but there’s a warm welcome inside. There is some indistinct music crackling over the PA system as I enter. I can’t quite locate its origins, but it could be continental, or Carribean, or a strange fusion of the two. I’m not sure. Either way, it hints of untold riches to come, if only I can discover them. The barman calls me “my friend”, in a warm and genuine way, and I discuss the Around The World theme that must have the staff abuzz.
“No, I don’t follow the horses myself, really, although I did have three bets at Punchestown yesterday and they all won!”
Clearly he has not been briefed on the food side of things, and thinks I’m talking about a horse. I make a mental note to look out for any such themed horse this afternoon. I approach a steward and quiz her about the vaunted delights, but she is similarly baffled and suggests the ‘Chips & Things’ van might have a burger.
Tommo is in the paddock doing his usual routine, and if anyone can warm up a frozen crowd it’s him. Bob Champion is being interviewed and manages to use the phrase “let’s be honest” an astonishing four times in three minutes. In the first race Prince Khurram is given a great ride out in front by conditional jockey James Cowley, and Tommo jokes that he is now leading the jockeys championship, this being the first jumps meeting of the new season.
I’m now hungry and perturbed by the lack of colourful and diverse food stalls, so set off on a mission to find my lunch from a hidden corner of the globe without success. Frankly, I’m beginning to think this is a theoretical campaign which never got management approval, put together by some marketing trainee who thought that haute cuisine is a trip to Spud-U-Like. I storm into the Racecourse Office, demanding to know if I’ve been brought here under false pretences. The nice lady directs me to the tiny Durham Edition Bar which I had missed in my earlier treasure hunt, and eventually I secure my prize.
The promised exotic fillings such as Chicken Tikka and Bolognaise have not materialised, so it’s Tuna Mayo, Beans or Cheese. In a way, I am indeed transported to the Southern Seas via a can of John West’s tuna. It’s served by a mardy teenager who has to be shown how to open up the potato rather than just dumping the topping on. “Masterchef, is it?” she moans to her patient supervisor. Not quite. To add to the multinational street-market vibe, it’s served in a cardboard box with a plastic fork.
The second race features Bertie Moon who I had seen win at Perth, but I won’t back him at 7/4 as his form before that was patchy. Jebulani won over course and distance last time, and after watching the first race I realise that this undulating and cambered track with tight bends is certainly a unique test that may not suit some horses. Incredibly, he is 10/1 and I back him each way as I can’t see him finishing outside the first three. Bertie Moon wins and Jebulani finishes fourth, beaten a short head in the sixth photo-finish out of six on this tour to go against me. I feel that after the jubilation of finally getting ahead at Pontefract yesterday, the Gods of Probability are exacting their revenge and it’s not going to be my day.
I go to the paddock before the next race because I can’t decide between the two favourites. Classinaglass is a fine looking individual who nonchalantly poos all over his hind legs as he saunters around. I’m no horse doctor, but it’s definitely a big one, stretching out for about 20 yards of previously pristine rubber matting. I estimate that he must be carrying at least 5 pounds less now, which can make all the difference over two and a half miles, and that sways my decision. He runs a bit….crap.
I’ve talked at length about various attempts to reinvigorate the sport and attract new racegoers, and I’m afraid today’s theme is exactly the sort of marketing absurdity that does nothing for horse racing. If any of the locals were there to sample world cuisine they would have been sorely disappointed, but luckily nobody (including the staff) had taken a blind bit of notice of this awfully-executed attempt at promoting the course. People are here on a cold Thursday because they like watching horse racing in a relaxed and friendly ambiance. Let’s concentrate our efforts on improving the sport and the facilities rather than this PR nonsense which is neither believed nor delivered.
The assembled crowd would much rather buy a decent burger. Or failing that, they’d have had the good sense to get a steak and kidney pie from the town before they came, which is of course what I should have done. I head for the exit before being tempted to find a jacket potato with beans and cheese to continue the culinary tour of this strange land called Great Britain. The drive south takes 5 hours, without a pie or jacket potato in sight.